Henry VIII, obviously the eighth king of England to bear the name of Henry, was a robust 33-year-old in 1524.

He had already excelled in many areas, had acquired a number of accolades, and could easily have felt that the world was at his feet. In fact, much of his surrounding world seemed to act as if it were lying at his feet.

With his impressive size, his impressive clothes, his impressive pomp and ceremony, his Renaissance education and his unflagging self-confidence, he appeared larger than life to most of his subjects, and was seen as a major force to be reckoned with in the European balance of power. He was at least what our age would call “an achiever,” probably even “an over-achiever.” He could play multiple musical instruments, dance, hunt game, lead an army, win at a joust, control his nobles and spend money like it grew on trees. Whatever constituted the stage, Henry VIII dominated it.

Even theology was not beyond the exertions of this highly confident King. When Martin Luther questioned the reigning theology of the period, with its minimal piety and its idolatry of popes, priests, saints and symbols, Henry considered himself quite capable of rebutting the troublesome Saxon monk, and soon produced his Defense of the Seven Sacraments. This appeared in 1520, about one year after Luther’s writings began to achieve really-wide circulation, and was almost entirely Henry’s work. For a while at least, it was the predominant theological apologetic in England for the traditional Catholic faith.

Although today, post-Reformation, we might question the Defenses’s effectiveness in combatting “the Lutheran heresy,” the pope at the time was apparently impressed with it. At least he was quite effusive in his praise of it (but of ...

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